Today is a great day to review what we know about Nigella Seeds. Nigella seeds are considered to be a spice and are harvested from the Nigella sativa plant. That plant is mainly grown in Egypt and in India. The seeds are slightly pungent and have an onion-like smell, although they are not related to the onion. Nigella seeds, are sometimes confused for black sesame seeds but have a decidedly different shape. Black sesame are gently rounded while nigella seeds have sharp edges and are triangle-shaped. The flavor of the Nigella seed has been described as smoky and peppery. They impart a flavor combination reminiscent of black pepper and onion with a hint of oregano and have a bitterness to them like mustard seeds. It can be used as a “pepper” in recipes with vegetables, salads and poultry.
In India, they often sprinkle them on naan or Indian flat bread. A five spice mix common in Bengal called panch phoran will include these seeds as one of the five spices; mixing them with fennel, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds. Following the lead of Indian chefs, I like to use this mixture to flavor fish or vegetables, particularly eggplant. It would seem that eggplant and nigella seeds are made for each other.
In my research on this seed I found that it has called by many different names such as black cumin, black mustard and black sesame seeds. It appears that the Nigella seed does belong to the cumin family and is known as black cumin in English-speaking countries. Black cumin is mentioned in the bible (Isaiah 28: 25, 27) and it is reported that Nigella seeds were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. I have also read a quote that is derived from the Holy Quran when the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, that says “Use the Black Seed for indeed, it is a cure for every disease except death” So while there is not a lot of history, the history we can find gives this seed a pretty good pedigree.
If it is not among your spices, you might want to get some and try adding it to your eggplant recipes. The seeds are quite hard, but you don’t need to grind them because the heat from cooking opens the seed and releases its flavor. That said, I do grand my five spice mixture and add it to my sandwich dressing to kick it up a tad.
The seeds will keep up to a year when placed inside an airtight container and stored in a cool dark place (Along with all those other spices, that so many people mistakenly store over their stoves.)
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